A columnist for The Paper, on online publication that takes on controversial subjects, recently argued that Chinese people’s intent to get vaccinated would only drop further as vaccination is rolled out, because they would feel even safer.
Also remarkable: Only 16 percent of the Chinese respondents in the Ipsos-World Economic Forum survey who were vaccine-skeptics said they were skeptical because of concerns over the vaccines’ effectiveness — that was the lowest such percentage among all the groups surveyed.
This fact is all the more noteworthy that China has been rocked by major food- and health-safety scandals over the years: involving rice contaminated with cadmium, baby formula laced with melamine — and at least half a dozen shoddy vaccines. Yet those precedents do not seem to be shaping current views.
If anything, too, popular social media platforms such as Weibo, WeChat and Bilibili are awash with posts and articles peddling conspiracy theories — some promoted by Chinese officials — about the vaccines developed in the West: Those contain mercury, and deliberately; they may modify human genes.
In a survey by the local government of Changzhou, a city in the coastal province of Jiangsu, in November and December, 79 percent of respondents said they would be more inclined to take vaccines made in China, compared with 7 percent who said they favored foreign ones. According to a series of online surveys of urban residents throughout China conducted by the China Data Lab at the University of California-San Diego, the Chinese public’s trust in both the central government and local authorities increased during the first half of 2020.
People’s sense of safety seems to be both shaped and shared by public health experts. Wu Zunyou, the chief epidemiologist of the Chinese Center for Disease Control, claimed in late December that “the chances of infection are very small.” Zhang Wenhong, a leading infectious disease expert who has become something of a small celebrity thanks to his plain talk, said last month that there was no urgency to roll out mass vaccination because “China has done the best job of any country in Covid control.”
The government recently announced a nationwide drive to vaccinate 50 million people from high-priority groups — essential workers, doctors and border-inspection personnel — ahead of the Lunar New Year, a major travel rush, next month. After that, it envisions inoculating all “eligible people,” a category that excludes anyone who is pregnant, breastfeeding or immunocompromised, as well as people younger than 18 or older than 59.